This past week, one particular announcement has managed to dominate both headlines and social media buzz alike – that being Disney’s formal unveiling of its Disney+ streaming platform, along with both a price tag – $6.99 – and a release date – November the 12th, 2019. The platform is set to host an enormous amount of content for consumers, featuring hundreds of shows and films from Disney’s vast amassed library of Studios, IP’s and Networks – from Marvel Studios, to Fox, to Star Wars. From November 2019, the platform will also be the only streaming service to host recently released big-budget films from either of those companies – starting with Marvel Studios’ Captain Marvel.
For other streaming platforms, such as Netflix – this has proven to be something of a headache-inducing move. No longer can the company boast that it will be the first place for exclusive Disney content – and with the last of the services’ original Marvel productions being very recently cancelled, Disney has successfully managed to kill what was once a major selling point of the service, something which – unsurprisingly – hasn’t been particularly well received by fans.
Another much discussed aspect to Disney’s reveal is the sheer value that the services’ starting cost represents. For many, $6.99 a month (or, if you are British, £5.35) for access to the entire Marvel Studios, Star Wars, Fox and Pixar libraries – along with several big-budget IP firsts, may be hard to turn down. In contrast, Netflix is looking once again to raise prices across the board, a move of whose’s announcement once again hasn’t proven popular with consumers. Despite this, Netflix doesn’t seem to be at all fazed, welcoming the competition – all amongst a growing debt.
So, what does this all mean for the future of the humble Cinema? While as far back as 2011, many – including the legendary Roger Ebert – had penned articles about the downfall of the Cinema, blaming rising ticket prices and an unpleasant viewing experience – in the years since, other competitors have arrived, and with them – more boogiemen to blame. In one such article from January 2015 over on technology website BGR, titled – ‘Netflix is starting to wound the movie industry where it hurts most‘ – writer Tero Kuittien points the finger at the streaming service giant for helping to contribute towards the decline of the traditional Cinema viewing experience, noting the sheer variety of the content offered (at that point in time) by the service as one of the primary catalysts:
“Probably the worst threat to traditional movie business is the streaming cornucopia offered by Netflix. It’s bad enough that Netflix is offering a relatively broad range of TV series and movies produced by a variety of studios. But now, the company is ramping up its own content production — and much of it is aimed directly at young people between the ages of 12 and 24. The new group of interlocking Marvel series revolving around characters familiar from the Daredevil franchise is aiming directly at teens who were sucked into Marvel universe in movie theaters over the past decade. The expensive new Marco Polo series flirts with the Game of Thrones fan base. Sense8 by the Wachowski siblings appeals to fans of extravagant science fiction spectacles.”
While in early 2015, this hypothesis would have seemed entirely reasonable, in 2019 – we are able to see quite how differently the future that Kuittien had envisioned actually unfolded. In 2018, Daredevil was cancelled. In 2016, Marco Polo was cancelled. Finally, in 2017 – Sense8 was (you guessed it) cancelled. This means that not one of the shows that the writer had theorised to being partly to blame for the decline had managed to survive in the 4 years since the article was published. More importantly then, it shows quite how unpredictable a landscape that the streaming industry has become. In regards to feature-length films, however – Netflix’s action-blockbuster Bright (starring Will Smith) which released in December 2017, exclusively on the streaming platform, while not the critical darling that some were hoping – was still an enormous success, with over 11 million viewers in its first weekend in the US.
The service is also managing to attract certain prestige filmmakers – with Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman (available first on the platform) releasing in October 2019. Perhaps to accompany this release, Variety has recently confirmed that the streaming giant is finalising plans to purchase the iconic 97-year old Egyptian Theatre in Los Angeles, for “events and special screenings.” May this result in Netflix – in response to a history of particularly egregious awards snubs – be hoping to further legitimise the feature-length content offered in the eyes of awards show judges? Will the future see the company moving further into the Cinema, releasing its tentpole feature-length film releases alongside some of the biggest names in the industry?
If I was to make a brazen prediction of my own, I would say that this almost certainly will happen. Netflix will (within the next couple of years) move further and further into the Cinema industry, eventually debuting their films in full alongside other major releases – similar to how the Music Industry has implemented the Official Streaming Chart alongside more traditional mediums in 2014, in response to the meteoric rise of the Music Streaming industry over the past decade. Netflix‘s eventual purchase of the Egyptian Theatre is just the start. Another prediction of mine: the Cinema is safe, or at least, for the next decade.
If we are to look at the box-office figures for upcoming ‘event’ films – available solely at launch in the Cinema, such as next week’s Avengers: Endgame, we are able to clearly see that the medium of the Cinema is far from dead, with the latter successfully managing to break all box-office pre-sale records in the weeks leading up to its release. The enduring popularity of Marvel’s own MCU films – along with similar, popular ‘event’ films, such as the upcoming Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, will – I believe – single-handedly secure the future of the Cinema. In 2014, Marvel‘s Kevin Feige stated that Marvel Studios had (at that point in time) a 14 year-long plan in place, with films planned until (at least) 2028. Disney’s hot streak of box office domination is far from over.
One final prediction – Steven Spielberg’s mission to bar (or at least limit) Netflix’s presence at major Awards events such as the Oscars will not make much of an impact. Netflix is still popular, and with 9.6 million new subscribers joining the service in the first quarter of 2019 – such proposed exclusions would do nothing but to anger consumers of the service, who would likely respond with a popular petition or two, resulting in the changes being quickly backtracked upon. Besides, Netflix‘s own Roma won not one – but three – Oscars at the 2019 Awards, again re-affirming Netflix’s critical as-well as commercial popularity.
In conclusion, while past headlines featuring falling box office figures front and centre does paint a worrying picture, it is important to read between the lines. While in 2017, The Verge reported that: ‘Domestic (read: American) movie theater attendance hit a 25-year low in 2017′ – further into the article, the writer notes how the “global box office revenue (had) hit a record $40 billion this year (an increase of 3 percent worldwide).” This pattern of falling domestic figures versus rising foreign box office figures continued well into 2018, with UK Cinema attendance hitting the highest peaks since 1970, thanks to films such as Bohemian Rhapsody. With such unpredictability, it is nearly impossible to accurately predict the future of the Cinema industry – but as with most things, only time will tell.
As is now tradition, here are my four random films recommendations for April 2019:
- Good Time (2017)
- Wind River (2017)
- Beasts of No Nation (2015)
- The Night Comes for Us (2018)
Thanks for reading!